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|Country of origin||Thailand|
|Famous practitioners||Tony Jaa|
|Descendant arts||Muay Thai, Muay Lao|
Muay Boran (Thai: มวยโบราณ, RTGS: muai boran, pronounced [mūa̯j bōːrāːn], lit. "ancient boxing") or originally Toi Muay (ต่อยมวย) is an umbrella term for the unarmed martial arts of Thailand prior to the introduction of modern equipment and rules in the 1930s.
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According to Thai folklore, at the time of the fall of the ancient Siamese capital of Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1767, the invading Burmese troops rounded up thousands of Siamese citizens. They then decided to organize a seven-day, seven-night religious festival in honor of Buddha's relics. The festivities included many forms of entertainment, such as the costume plays called likay, comedies and farces, and sword-fighting matches. At one point, King Hsinbyushin wanted to see how Thai boxing would compare to their Lethwei. Nai Khanomtom was selected to fight against the King’s chosen champion, and the boxing ring was set up in front of the throne. Nai Khanomtom did a traditional Wai Kru pre-fight dance, to pay his respects to his teachers and ancestors, dancing around his opponent. The perplexed the Burmese people thought it was black magic. When the fight began, Nai Khanomtom charged out, using punches, kicks, elbows, and knees to pummel his opponent until he collapsed. According to the story, the referee said the Burmese champion was too distracted by the dance and declared the knockout invalid. The King supposedly asked if Nai Khanomtom would fight nine other Burmese champions to prove himself who agreed and fought them all, one after the other with no rest periods. His last opponent was a great kickboxing teacher from Rakhine state whom Nai Khanomtom defeated with kicks, and no one else dared to challenge him afterwards.
King Mangra was so impressed that he allegedly remarked that "Every part of the Siamese is blessed with venom. Even with his bare hands, he can fell nine or ten opponents. But his Lord was incompetent and lost the country to the enemy. If he had been any good, there was no way the City of Ayutthaya would ever have fallen."
King Mangra granted Nai Khanomtom freedom along with either riches or two beautiful Burmese wives. Nai Khanomtom chose the wives as he said that money was easier to find. He then departed with his wives for Siam. Other variations of this story had him also win the release of his fellow Thai prisoners.
Today, some have wrongly attributed the legend of Nai Khanomtom to King Naresuan, who spent his youth as a royal hostage in Burma while Ayutthaya was a Burmese vassal. However, Nai Khanomtom and King Naresuan lived almost two centuries apart.
In the early 20th century, one of King Chulalongkorn's sons died. He commanded his officers to gather fighters of exceptional skill to perform as part of the funeral ceremonies. Three fighters in particular stood out and were granted titles of muen as a means to promote the quality of muay, which had been diminishing at the time. The chosen fighters were from different parts of the country: Daeng Thaiprasoet from the Northeast region became Muen Changat Choengchok; Klueng Tosa-at from the Central region became Muen Muemaenmat; Prong Chamnongthong from the Southern region became Muen Muaymichue. Each name means and corresponds to a specific style of muay fighting: Changatchoengchok means "effective style of punching", Muemaenmat means "skillful punches", and Muaymichue translates to "muay with a reputation". From these grew a few different styles of muay: Lopburi, Khorat, and Chaiya, respectively. Additional varieties came to be later on, but these three styles were originally actualized under the Muay Boran umbrella.
Muay boran was originally developed for self-defense and also taught to the Thai military for use in warfare. Muay Boran originally is a martial art system which has deadly techniques, grappling techniques and ground fighting techniques apart from its stand up techniques. This differs from modern-day Muay Thai, which consists only of stand up and is only a ring sport. Matches between practitioners of the art then began to be held. These soon became an integral part of Thai culture with fights being held at festivals and fighters from the different areas of Thailand testing their styles against each other. Fighters began to wrap their hands and forearms in hemp rope which not only protected their fists from injury but also made their strikes more likely to cut an opponent. Muay boran fighters were highly respected and the best were enlisted into the King's royal guard. During the 1920s-30s King Rama VII modernized the Thai martial arts competitions, introducing referees, boxing gloves, rounds and western boxing rings. Many of the traditional Muay Boran techniques were banned or were not practical with the addition of the new rules, and so muay boran went into decline.
Muay Thai was originally known simply as "muay". The addition of "Thai" was to differentiate the style from western boxing in the early 1900s. Muay "Boran" only recently became a term used to encompass the origins of Thai martial arts due to the historical writings of Khet Siyaphai. With the increasing popularity of Muay Thai in the last few decades, nationalistic supporters of Muay felt a need to establish a history of the martial art, resulting in a sometimes unfounded account of the background of Muay Thai and Muay Boran.
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